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How and Why to Get a Chip-and-PIN Credit Card

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Chip credit cards—also known as EMV, for Europay, MasterCard and Visa—have recently become the standard in the U.S. Just about every credit and debit card now comes with a chip, which improves security.

However, U.S. cards typically use chip-and-signature technology, not chip-and-PIN. Chip-and-PIN is the standard in most of the rest of the world. Having a card with chip-and-PIN technology can make traveling abroad much easier. So what’s the difference and where can you get one?

Chip-and-PIN vs. Chip-and-Signature

Chip-and-PIN cards differ from the more common chip-and-signature cards embedded with a chip. Purchases made with chip-and-PIN cards are verified by entering a PIN (personal identification number) instead of signing a receipt.

Unfortunately, chip-and-PIN cards are hard to get in the U.S. Your options are limited. The good news is that for most purchases, either type will do. The last time I was traveling across Europe, I needed a chip-and-PIN card only once to pay in an unmanned parking garage.

Since you’ll be able to use a chip-and-signature card 99% of the time, you have to wonder if it’s worth giving up the better benefits and rewards available with those cards just for the extremely rare circumstance when you might need a chip-and-PIN card.

Having a chip-and-PIN card is definitely not critical, but it might make your life easier when you travel. Even though the PIN version of chip cards hasn’t gone mainstream in the U.S., you do have a few options if you want to get one.

It’s important to remember that while plenty of U.S. banks issue chip-and-signature cards, very few issue chip-and-PIN cards. Among those that do, some impose foreign transaction charges so they would not be useful overseas. And some have annual fees.

We’ve put together a list of cards that do not have annual fees and either have very low foreign transaction charges or none at all. Some of them do require joining a credit union.

Best Chip-and-Signature Travel Cards

Before we get into your options for chip-and-PIN cards, let’s take a look at a great travel card with chip-and-signature technology. This card will be good for 99% of your purchases, and it has better rewards than any chip-and-PIN card available in the U.S.

The Capital One Venture card is great because it earns miles fast and the rewards are very easy to use. You’ll get a 50,000-mile bonus worth $500 and earn 2% back on every purchase.

Venture miles are excellent for anyone who often flies in economy and has limited flexibility with travel dates. That’s because you can redeem miles for travel purchased from anywhere. There are no blackout dates or restrictions.

Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

You don’t have to hunt down award seats or book with a specific airline or through a reward program’s webpage. Given how award availability has become more and more limited with every frequent flyer program, this is a very valuable benefit. That’s why I’ve been telling every traveler to get this card.

There a lot of excellent chip-and-signature travel cards. The Citi ThankYou Premier and Amex Gold Rewards cards have great travel benefits and transfer partners.

If you’d rather have a straight cashback card, there are lots of those, too. Consider the Capital One Quicksilver, Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer or Discover it cards.

Chip-and-PIN Cards With No Foreign Transaction Charges and No Strings Attached

The following are the only fee free chip-and-PIN cards that don’t require you belong to a credit union:

BankAmericard Travel Rewards card has no annual fee and no charges on foreign transactions
BankAmericard Travel Rewards card has no annual fee and no charges on foreign transactions

Chip-and-PIN With No Foreign Transaction Charges and Only a Few Strings Attached

These cards are issued by credit unions, which aren’t generally offered to the general public, but are easy to join:

  • Andrews Federal Credit Union: Visa Platinum Rewards
  • State Department Federal Credit Union: Visa Platinum
  • PenFed Credit Union: PenFed Premium Travel Rewards American Express, PenFed Promise Visa and PenFed Gold Visa

If you join the American Consumer Counsel, which is free, you can get the Andrews FCU Visa Platinum Rewards card and the State Department FCU Visa Platinum card. Andrews FCU also requires you to open a savings account and make a deposit of at least $5.

To qualify for the Penfed cards, you just have to make a small donation to the National Military Family Association or Voices of American Troops.

Chip-and-PIN Cards With a 1% Foreign Transaction Charge

Although the Wings Financial Visa Signature card is issued by a credit union, you do not need to join to get the card.

You’ll have to join the United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA) to get the UNFCU Visa Azure. The fee for joining varies from free to $1,000.

The only special requirement for getting the Commerce Bank Visa Signature is that you have to apply in person at a Commerce Bank branch.

The USAA World MasterCard is only available to USAA members. So you’ll have to be in the military, a veteran, or an eligible family member.

Chip-and-PIN Debit Cards

Another option for getting a chip-and-PIN card is to open a bank account with a bank offering chip-and-PIN enabled debit cards.

The Charles Schwab Bank Visa Debit Card is one of those cards. There’s no annual fee and no foreign transaction charges. One unique feature of this card is that there are no ATM fees, which comes in handy when you need cash while traveling abroad. You have to call Charles Schwab to open an account to get this debit card.

First Republic’s Visa Debit Card also offers chip-and-PIN. Although there’s no annual fee, they do not list their foreign transaction charges.

Barclays Travel Card: Chip-and-PIN plus Rewards

Barclaycard Arrival Plus MasterCard
Barclaycard Arrival Plus MasterCard

There’s one chip-and-PIN credit card with an annual fee that’s worth considering: Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard It has no foreign transaction fees and comes with a 40,000 mile sign-up bonus. You’ll also earn 2.2 percent cash back, and the $89 annual fee is waived for the first year.

Bottom Line

In a few specific circumstances, it can be very convenient to have a chip-and-PIN card when traveling abroad. They’re sometimes required at automatic kiosks—including some toll booths, parking garages and train stations—and by the occasional vendor.

But for 99% of your transaction abroad (and all of them in the U.S.) the standard chip-and-signature card will do just fine. Considering how hard it is to find a chip-and-PIN card in the U.S., you’re going to be better off getting a good chip-and-signature card with better benefits and rewards.

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